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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Refuge For the Masses

A day just like any other day. Except any other day didn’t exist on this planet, in this time warp, on my watch, in retrospect, with bi-focals, as a fossilized public service announcement. Aside from all that, this day was precariously stuck in now, and it was the only one I had.

In my later years, I would marvel at how poignant life was, even when it wasn’t trying to be. Myself unshackled by obligation or direction, each day opened up inordinate possibilities. By the natural order of things, I meandered down to the park to take in the solemnity.

I’ve found that at the park, some come to observe while others come to be the observed. And I suppose we fall at least a little into both categories. It wouldn’t be as fulfilling if we were each only there on our own. Even if no one notices us, the potential is always there. Say if a person happened to break out into something magnificent without warning, he’d have ample witnesses. This can be a great comfort. To be a cog in such a well-oiled — albeit random — machine is invigorating.

The weather, it didn’t matter on this day. Nobody was affected by it, and fewer noticed. The climate was no more than a hazy afterthought. Sometimes things with the capacity of being the most appreciated are the things most overlooked. Their significance is then only realized in their absence. Nothing about the wind was giving any hints. There didn’t have to be clouds if there were, because not a soul cared. I would’ve looked up if I had needed to, but the park was filled with its own atmosphere.

Yes, it’s the scenery, and it’s the scenery within the scenery.

Parks might as well be outdoor libraries. The messages found in sparse crowds as this are silently conveyed. So much is being said in the face of so little being audible. We invite the birds to help ease the awkward hush — being unaccustomed ourselves — and to help us forget that the predominance of definition of the moment is occurring separately within each of our own minds. There are a hundred different stories playing out simultaneously in a hundred different theaters. That I may have cameos in some only makes me feel wanted.

Silence also brings with it an aura of slow motion. Noise speeds things up, and the quiet brings it all back to being suspended in time. Perhaps if we could peer beneath silence, we could go backward in time. Our best chance may be at a park.

A curiosity about observing the park faithful: they all appear to have separate yet important agendas. Even the ones who don’t know what they’re doing seem to be doing it with purpose. In those cases, generally a good idea to bring a dog along, because the dog will gladly plot out your purpose for you. I surmise that people led by dogs are otherwise not self-assured enough to forge a purpose on their own. A dog, whether leashed or not, is an extension of ourselves, representing our ambition in greater energy and pace. It’s not so much that we walk the dogs, but more the other way around. Besides, who’s out in front?

Some in attendance attach wheels to their feet apparently to allow them to progress more steadily along their path, yet it’s often these people who retrace their path instead of lengthening it. As a result, they don’t get anywhere, but they do get there more quickly. Also a wonder is how the wardrobe choices of many park-goers seem to depend on two things: If it’s not an ice age, they’ll wear shorts and sandals. In the event of an ice age, they’ll reluctantly forego the sandals.

Parks can hold a menagerie of before-and-after pictures, with wannabes and already beens. The park discriminates against no one. The thing is, I usually enjoy watching the befores more. They seem to still have a hold on their passion. Maybe some of that preference is pity, maybe some of it’s relating. People trying to get in shape, others trying to stay in shape, others trying to show off their shape. People out for a picnic, or a stroll, or to become one with the ecosystem.

All in all, parks provide a wonderful humanitarium with no admission. You sit in one place, and they all come to you. Parades do happen every day if looking in the right places.

Some lounge on the grass to read or just collect in the sun. Funny how small blades of grass can not only accommodate this phenomenon, but invite it as well. We are drawn to large patches of grass as if it were magnetic. Sand can have similar effects for the loungers, yet it must be accompanied by a considerable amount of adjacent water to offset the connotations of dryness and heat. Grass, meanwhile, is self-contained. It acts as its own blanket, as it provides padding and is not hot to the touch. As a consequence, grass parks are much more popular than rock parks, cement parks, or those of other non-porous substances. Despite squeezing it out, urbania will never be able to replace the grassy oasis with anything more worthy of its expanse.

I presume I’m not the only one present mesmerized by the spectacle of humans in their recreative state, even though at first blush everyone looks to be caught up in their own space. If I looked around ever so unobtrusively, I may be able to see whose observation realm includes me. This is where subtlety works best, for if two people looking through binoculars were to happen to spot one another in unison, it would tend to spoil the moment. The lens you look through can’t be in the picture and retain any objectivity, let alone anonymity. So the best way to enjoy the park experience has to be as an undercover spy.

As I bask in the serenity of my surroundings, I find myself rejuvenated. The simple, uneventful drama of a park fills the lungs with a uniquely passive kinetic air. Watch them unceremoniously recycle as they arrive, take it all in, and then fade away. No announcement, no formality, no structure. People don’t check into a park, nor do they need to arrive on the hour or half hour. These are the ones who came at their leisure, partook, and once sated, floated off to be siphoned back into civilization.

As they say, life surely isn’t a walk in the park… but a walk in the park is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Parks, libraries, waiting areas (airports, Dr offices, DMV's, lines in stores) and public transportation are a few of my most favorite places on the planet to be. They offer the perfect opportunities to observe and interact with humanity from all walks of life. They are ultimate locations for people watching which for me is like experiencing poetry in motion.

I love the picture that you chose to represent your park. I lived in Chicago and stood many times mesmerized in front of it at the Art Institute. All those tiny little pixilated dots up close that make up a clear picture when you step back with a different perspective and look again. Brilliant.

So enjoy your sharing of thoughts and observations. Profound words of wisdom, eloquently presented. I will be taking a walk in my beloved Central Park here in NYC again soon and when I do, I will pause and send a thought hello to you. Thanks R.


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